Home Self Governance Climbing to New Heights – Parallels between Running a Successful Business & Mountaineering

Climbing to New Heights – Parallels between Running a Successful Business & Mountaineering

by Michael MacNair

I can’t say that I have learned and applied the following tips throughout the 25 years I have been in business as the founder of MacNair Travel Management, but like my other hobbies such as mountaineering, skills are built with experience. I recently trekked to Everest Base Camp in the Himalayas – a mere 18,500 feet – and in doing so I reflected on the parallels between running a successful business and mountaineering. Three key areas that translate are: Aim High, Climb High, and Be High. The club of those brave souls that have summited Everest is smaller than the club of business owners who have been successful for 25 years or more, but they are both quite a challenge involving a great deal of dedication, skill, and endurance.  Some of the key parallels skills include:

Aim High. Setting a big goal like summiting Everest and establishing big long term business goals are critical to being successful. When setting your goals, it’s important to aim high. There is only room in business these days for the biggest in each niche and the best. Which will you be? In most categories the biggest is already taken so defining what it is you do uniquely and aiming high within that niche is key. A clear summit or goal is critical. You can rally your team around a bold summit with no distractions if everyone is pointed in the right direction – and that’s up high. Being the competitive person I am, I have learned a trick here to keep me motivated. It is this: measure yourself by the distance you have traveled from your start versus from where you are to the ideal. I have found that the ideal or summit tends to continually extend further forward. You can get discouraged unless you look back down the mountain and rejoice in the distance you have climbed. What I have found is that acclimatization is required and the unexpected does happen. What is acclimatization? While traveling up in elevation it’s important to stay at an elevation at times or even go down in elevation at times so that your body acclimatizes to that oxygen level. At times in my business plan I pushed for the summit and didn’t consider that at certain stages we needed to acclimatize a bit to that growth stage.  Then we have to figure that at times tragedies that are uncontrollable like the recent avalanche on Everest and we need to retreat a bit and regroup. Breathe – it’s ok if you handle it correctly. This is an endurance activity and not a sprint, so keep your focus and continue on. Yes Aim High and push for the summit but don’t get yourself mentally off track if it doesn’t go exactly to plan. Keep your team motivated, your momentum going, and your confidence high and you will get there.

Climb High. The daily trek of work requires a few key focuses in order to reach your summit well and sane. The first is what I call “headlamp focus”. As we headed out to summit Kala Patthar (an 18,500 peak near Everest), I was very nervous. We left in the darkness, the cold, and the snow to summit at sunrise. Because my mind was racing and my body was filled with nerves, I could only focus on one step at a time on the area in front of me lit up by my headlamp. By focusing on this small area in front of me, one step at a time, I became more focused and less nervous and progressed up the mountain to the summit. So when aiming high and knowing your summit, at times things get crazy and focusing on one step at a time in the direction of this summit, you are likely to have success. This headlamp focus should be on the right steps in the right direction (with the right measurable) for your summit also. The second key to climbing high is what I call “rope line quality”. A rope line is a set of climbers that are tied together during dangerous parts of climbs. The rope line consists of three great things: a team of climbers, a rope, and an emergency plan. Your fellow climbers are critical. In business and in mountaineering you are tied to this team. If one goes down, so do you all. So pick your rope line carefully. The rope is your systems and processes that allow you to hike together efficiently as a team. You must all be in sync and rhythm and only with your organization’s unique systems and processes can you be in sync in the rope line so no one falls. The last item is your emergency plan. When someone on your rope line falls into a crevasse, the reaction has to be quick and clear. You throw your ice pick into the ground with your body on top of it waiting for the tug. If everyone does this it catches the fall of your team mate. Emergency plans are required and everyone needs to know what to do with them. Crazy things have happened over the last 25 years (couldn’t have dreamed of them if asked) so these action plans have come into play and have kept momentum.

Be High. Not the cheap and easy kind that you get from mind altering items. Being high is an attitude and it comes from aiming high and climbing high successfully with the right rope line.  So you will have built some of this attitude by applying the first two steps. That said, things will not always go as expected and things will not always be easy. It is easy to freak out in these instances but you cannot.  I have never seen anything but positive energy on summit days. I was told by my brother before my first ironman to give positive energy all day and get it right back. All so true. Negative thoughts and energy distract people. So as the leader it’s important to stay positive when times are tough. There will be people that attach themselves to your rope line who can create negative energy and they have to go. Like a great trek to Everest you also have to look up and take in the sights, take rest breaks, and celebrate life and success. In trekking you must eat and drink almost every hour because at high altitudes your body gets depleted fast because your heart rate escalates. You too will want to establish these types of intervals where you trek hard and recover properly for long term mental and physical health.  Live happy, be happy. It will give you the nutrients to sustain your trek to the summit.

So aim high, climb high, and be high and you will reach your summit. Maybe more than one as the world and business landscape have many mountains.


About the Author

Michael MacNair owns MacNair Travel Management, a privately owned Travel Management Company and American Express Representative Office in the Washington, DC area celebrating 25 years of success in 2014. MacNair Travel Management is a recognized leader in the travel industry for its development and enhancement of the travel procurement systems of more than 300 corporate customers nationwide. Michael is also the author of a book on travel procurement called The Secrets of Effective Business Travel Procurement and a frequent media spokesperson. Visit: www.MacNairTravel.com.

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